TOKYO—Japan will accelerate spending on advanced stealth fighters, long-range missiles and other equipment over the next five years to support U.S. forces facing China’s military in the Western Pacific, two new government defense papers said.
The plans are the clearest indication yet of Japan’s ambition to become a regional power as a military build-up by China and a resurgent Russia puts pressure on its U.S. ally.
“The United States remains the world’s most powerful nation, but national rivalries are surfacing and we recognize the importance of the strategic competition with both China and Russia as they challenge the regional order,” said a 10-year defense program outline approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government on Dec. 18.
The United States, followed by China, North Korea and Russia, are the countries that most influenced Japan’s latest military thinking, the paper said.
China, the world’s second biggest economy, is deploying more ships and aircraft to patrol waters near Japan, while North Korea has yet to fulfill a pledge to dismantle its nuclear and missile programs.
More Stealth Fighters
Japan plans to buy 45 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 stealth fighters, worth about $4 billion, in addition to the 42 jets already on order, according to a separate five-year procurement plan approved on Tuesday.
The new planes will include 18 short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) B variants of the F-35 that planners want to deploy on Japanese islands along the edge of the East China Sea.
The islands are part of a chain stretching past Taiwan and down to the Philippines that has marked the limit of Chinese military dominance east of the disputed South China Sea.
“Japan’s decision to acquire more F-35s is a testament to the aircraft’s transformational capability and its increasing role in promoting regional stability and enhancing the US-Japan security alliance,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement.
The navy’s two large helicopter carriers, the Izumo and Kaga, will be modified for F-35B operations, the paper said.
The 814 ft long Izumo-class ships are as big as any of Japan’s aircraft carriers in World War Two. They will need reinforced decks to withstand the heat blast from F-35 engines and could be fitted with ramps to aid short take-offs, two defense ministry officials told Reuters.
By Tim Kelly